Welcome to My Classroom

Brian Taylor

August 24, 2010

Good morning, everybody. My name is Rob Jenkins, and I'll be your instructor this semester. You can call me Mr. Jenkins or Professor Jenkins, for now. After you get your first essay back, you might want to call me something else.

Just kidding. I'm sure you'll do fine. I can promise you this: If you put as much effort into taking this class as I put into teaching it, you'll definitely learn something. Whether or not that effort translates into the grade you want remains to be seen. But we'll talk more about that later.

Believe it or not, I've been teaching this course for 25 years. If you have no trouble believing that, please keep it to yourself. When I started teaching, in 1985, students did all their written work by hand. No one had an e-mail address. Cellphones were the size of psychology textbooks and cost almost as much. Of course, as technology has advanced, I have too. So please, no handwritten essays. And no giant cellphones.

Over the years I've also learned a lot from my students, which has occasionally led me to change the way I do things. That's right, I learn from you. Students are always guinea pigs, whether they realize it or not. But you can rest easy, knowing I've already made most of my mistakes on the thousands of students who preceded you.


On the other hand, I do still use a lot of the same activities and assignments I used 20 years ago, because they work. Besides, why waste a perfectly good set of mimeographed notes when the ink is still readable? Anybody know what a mimeograph machine is? Never mind.

Anyway, enough about me. Let's talk about you. The first thing you need to understand is that, as far as I'm concerned, you're all adults. Of course, some of you are literally adults, with jobs, families, and mortgages that are now worth more than your house—just like me. But even if you're a 17-year-old dual-enrollment student, while you're in my class you're an adult, and I intend to treat you as such.

Conversely, I expect you to act like adults. On a practical level, that means you have a great deal of freedom. You don't have to raise your hand to speak. If you need to use the restroom, leave early for a doctor's appointment, or have some other type of emergency, you don't have to ask my permission. Just quietly get up and go. I won't penalize you.

Nor will I penalize you for being late to class once in a while, or even being absent, beyond the natural penalties that accrue as a result of your missing class time and activities. Unlike some of your other professors, I will not withdraw you from the class for excessive absences. If you want to withdraw, you'll have to do it yourself before the deadline. Otherwise, if you simply stop coming, you'll wind up with an F in the course.

You should also know that, according to several recent studies, students who attend class regularly earn, on average, one full letter grade higher than students who attend only sporadically. If you don't know what "sporadically" means, you should definitely come to class.

Along with considerable freedom, being an adult also carries a great deal of responsibility. You're responsible, first of all, for displaying good manners, being considerate of others, and generally not being a jerk. That means you won't interrupt other speakers, including me. You won't routinely be late to class, or regularly leave before it's over, because that's rude. And you'll keep your cellphone turned off, unless you have some really good reason to leave it on, such as your mother is in the hospital, your partner is about to give birth, or the Braves are playing in the World Series.

Moreover, you are personally responsible for everything we cover in class, whether you're here or not. I don't mean that unkindly, but please don't come up to me and ask, "Are we going to be doing anything important on Wednesday?" Of course we're going to do something important on Wednesday. Otherwise, I wouldn't be there either.

And please don't ask "Is it OK if I'm absent on Friday?" or "Is it OK if I leave early?" As far as I'm concerned, it's neither OK nor not OK. I prefer you to be in class all the time, for the simple reason that I want you to succeed in the course. But it's entirely your decision. You're an adult. Do what you have to do. You don't need my permission, nor will I give it. Just remember that you're responsible for all the material.

Likewise, please don't stop by the lectern before class to say, "Can you tell me what we talked about on Monday?" No, I can't. We talked about a lot of stuff on Monday, and I spent an hour and 15 minutes on it. There's no way I can recap that for you in the 30 seconds before class starts.

Besides, I did my part. I went over the material, as promised on the syllabus. It's now your responsibility. If you have a legitimate reason for your absence—not an excuse, but a reason—such as a documented illness, a death in the family, or the Braves' losing to the Mets (which is kind of like a death in the family), then come by and see me during office hours and I'll try to bring you up to speed. Otherwise, I recommend that you exchange e-mail addresses with two or three classmates and agree to share information if one of you has to be absent.

Is everyone clear on that? In this classroom, we're all adults. I promise to treat you like an adult, and you agree to behave like one.

OK. Before we turn to the syllabus, let's go back briefly to the subject of grades. I'm sure many of you have seen the comments on RateMyProfessors saying that I don't give many A's. That's true. I don't. And for a very good reason: There aren't many A students.

If you'll look at the college catalog, you'll see that "A" stands for "excellent." The fact is, few students are truly excellent. I don't mean to hurt your feelings by saying that, because I know many of you have been told all your lives just how excellent you are. But you see, the root word of "excellent" is "excel," which means to surpass all others or to stand out. By definition, not everyone can surpass all others. If everyone stands out, no one does. No doubt you are bright, as indicated by the fact that you're here. But it's unlikely that, as I begin evaluating your work, more than a few of you will actually stand out.

On the other hand, while not everyone can excel, a lot of people can be good. You may have also noticed, on that same RateMyProfessors page, a number of others commenters who said it was easy to get a B in my class. That's not a contradiction—although I wouldn't say it's exactly easy. But it's certainly very possible. Because, going back to the college catalog, B means "good." And if you're smart enough to get this far to begin with, you're probably smart enough to do well in the course, provided you show up and work hard. In other words, while only a few of you will legitimately excel, most of you can be good if you want to be, in which case I'll have no trouble assigning you a B.

Now that that's settled, let's take a look at the syllabus. And by the way, just so you can adjust your expectations, I probably will keep you here the entire 75 minutes today. That way, when somebody shows up at the next class meeting and asks if we did anything in the first day of class, I'll be able to say, "Absolutely."

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. He blogs at and writes monthly for our community-college column. If you would like to write for our regular column on faculty and administrative careers at two-year colleges, or have a topic to propose, we would like to hear from you. Send your ideas to